If you want to know why Peruvian food is trending, here’s a clue: Type “Why is Peruvian…” into your search engine, and, like a partner who completes your sentences, it says, “chicken so good.”
If you’re craving Peruvian rotisserie chicken (pollo a la brasa), nothing but that smoky, crispy juju of garlic, lime, and secret spices will do — and don’t forget the green sauce. Likewise ceviche, its silky cousin tiradito, and their perfect foil, the pisco sour.
Peruvian cuisine has captured our palate — and with at least 10 new restaurants in Westchester over the past few years, there’s no better time for a deeper dive.
It’s fusion from way back, encompassing dishes from pre-Incans, conquistadors, African slaves, Chinese laborers, and Italian, Japanese, and other immigrants. Add harvests from the mountains, coast, and jungle — including superfoods such as purple corn and quinoa, 5,000 varieties of potato, and an arsenal of ají chili peppers — and arrive at the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for the seventh consecutive year per the World Travel Awards, with two restaurants in the top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
In Westchester, restaurants have dropped their pins beyond Port Chester (which now has 14!) into White Plains, New Rochelle, and beyond, some eyeing franchise. Established ones thrive: Regulars poured in for the eight-year anniversary of Quenas in Harrison, greeting owner Shirley Llave by name.
Marina Medina, owner of Sazón Peruana in Port Chester, credits Peruvian star chef Gastón Acurio with putting the country’s food on the map, spurring growth worldwide. Medina’s family moved here from Lima, where she owned a café, in the wake of the tumultuous early ’90s.
Luis Fernandez, CEO of Juicy Chicken in New Rochelle, points to an influx of aficionados from the boroughs. “This building has people from Queens,” he says, pointing across the street, “that one from Brooklyn.”
For the most part, the breadth of Peruvian dishes is available here, says Paola Velasco, co-owner of IncAzeteca restaurant in Port Chester, citing many more vendors of specialty ingredients making deliveries to area restaurants.
Almost all serve the national dish, ceviche — citrus-cured seafood with cilantro, ají, and onion, accompanied by sweet potato and giant corn — as well as leche de tigre, the heavenly elixir of leftover marinade. Lip-smacking renditions of tiradito, the star of Japanese-Peruvian Nikkei cuisine — sliced raw fish in citrusy, spicy sauce — await at Panka Peruvian Bistro and Acuario, both in Port Chester.
Also try pulpo al olivo (octopus with olive sauce) and quinoa-crusted salmon at Aji Limo in Ossining. Bask in bouillabaisse-like parihuela and bond over jalea, a mountain of fried seafood.
Peru’s other benchmark dish is lomo saltado, Chinese-style stir-fried steak, tomato, and onion with fries and rice. But venture into slow-cooked specials, such as pachamanca, a mélange of meat and poultry, huayro potato, and fava beans, traditionally prepared in a pit, at Sazon Peruana. And rocoto relleno, a fiery, cheesy, beef-and-pork-stuffed pepper with potato gratin on Sundays at Panka Peruvian Bistro.
A tougher sell is guineau pig (cuy), raised as an economical, cherished meat source in the Andes. When it’s available, IncAzteca prepares it as a stew, and White Plains’ Inca & Gaucho fries it whole.
Starches include one of the potato’s greatest moments: papa a la huancaína, boiled yellow potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and olives blanketed in cheese sauce. But causa — mashed potatoes layered with avocado and chicken or shrimp salad — evolved from Japanese onigiri, deserves its day in the sun. As do staples like tallarin verde (spinach and basil noodles), chaufa (fried rice), and tacu tacu (rice and bean patty).
And that chicken. Families feast cheaply at Purple Corn Peruvian Rotisserie Joint in White Plains and at Port Chester’s Pollo a la Brasa Misti. IncAzteca slings it on nachos. The creamy green sauce you want to take a bath in is made with haucatay, Peruvian black mint.
Beyond the rotisserie, chicken appears in ají de gallina, shredded chicken in a creamy sauce of walnuts, cheese, turmeric, and ají amarillo, pooled inside a huge, crusty sourdough roll at Panka Grill in Port Chester. And La Gladys (Port Chester) has a chicken empanada you can’t pu t down, with the all-important olive tucked inside.
The pisco sour is in a league of its own — but it’s not Peru’s only drink. Chicha morada, a beverage made with purple corn, figures in a passionfruit Pisco cocktail that pairs with karaoke at New Rochelle’s Olibar, while less common chicha de jora corn beer graces the bar at Líneas de Naska, also in New Rochelle. End your meal with emoliente, a barley-based herbal tea (the coca tea you may drink throughout your trip to Peru is illegal here).
For dessert, pull over at Elmsford’s El Miski II Sweets for your new obsession: fruit-studded, cinnamon-dusted purple corn pudding layered over rice pudding — and knock-your-socks off flan. At Quenas, order picarones, a syrup-soaked, donut-like sweet potato confection, with lucuma ice cream.
And lest you skip breakfast, Mistura in White Plains offers a “typical Peruvian breakfast”: a tasty, burrito-size tamale, chicharrón (tender fried pork), and fried sweet potatoes.
Leslie-Anne Brill is a freelance writer and editor who has been to Peru and has the stuffed alpaca collection to prove it. She has previously covered Latin dining for Westchester Magazine.